A simple two-step method of fabricating vertically aligned and periodically distributed ZnO nanowires on gallium nitride (GaN) substrates is described. The method combines laser interference ablation (LIA) and low temperature hydrothermal decomposition. The ZnO nanowires grow heteroepitaxially on unablated regions of GaN over areas spanning 1 cm2, with a high degree of control over size, orientation, uniformity, and periodicity. High resolution transmission electron microscopy and scanning electron microscopy are utilized to study the structural characteristics of the LIA-patterned GaN substrate in detail. These studies reveal the possible mechanism for the preferential, site-selective growth of the ZnO nanowires. The method demonstrates high application potential for wafer-scale integration into sensor arrays, piezoelectric devices, and optoelectronic devices. © 2010 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim.